As expected, Google has finally launched its music service, though it's currently an invitation-only beta available just in the US. Rather than being called Google Music, it's going by the odd name of Music Beta by Google. While it's in beta, it will be free.

The new service lets you upload your personal music collection to the cloud for streaming to your computer and Android devices (up to 20,000 songs allowed). Your music and playlists are automatically kept in sync, so if you create a new playlist on one device (computer, phone, or tablet), it's available on all the rest.

Most importantly, you can listen to music when you're offline: Google automatically stores your most recently played music on your Android device and you can choose to make specific albums or playlists available when you're not connected (quality currently unknown). There's also a familiar feature called Instant Mix that creates a playlist of 25 songs based on one song that you pick.

Here are the four big features Google is touting:

  • Listen anywhere, even offline: You can get to your personal music collection at home or on the go. Listen from the web or any enabled device with the Music app available from Android Market. Not online? No problem. The songs you've recently played will automatically be available offline. You can also select the specific albums, artists and playlists you want to have available when you're not connected.
  • Stay in sync, without the hassle: Spend more time listening to your music and less time managing it. Once your music is online, it's always available. Playlists are automatically kept in sync, and you don't have to worry about cables, file transfers, or running out of storage space.
  • Your collection, now in one place: Upload your personal music collection to a single library, even if it's scattered across multiple computers. You can upload music files from any folder or add your iTunes® library and all of your playlists. And when you add new music to your computer, it can be automatically added to your music collection online.
  • Mix it up: Create your own custom playlists with just a few clicks. Or use Instant Mix to automatically build new playlists of songs from your collection that go great together. All the playlists you create and all the changes you make to them are automatically available everywhere your music is.

As you can see, there is nothing in the list above that would suggest that Google has partnered with any of the four major music labels in the US. This means that the company is essentially launching an alternative to Amazon's Cloud Drive.

Last month we heard that talks with labels for Google's new service were going backwards. The company had apparently changed its terms, holding up negotiations.

The only company that still has a chance with the labels is Apple. If Cupertino gets approval from the music industry, its cloud service will have one major advantage: store a single master copy of a song on its servers, and share that with multiple users. Amazon's and Google's services currently require users to upload a copy of every song they want to access remotely.